Nicholas Ashe Bateman proves with his poetic fantasy drama The Wanting Mare that you don’t need Hollywood to bring a vast, rich imagined world to life on screen.
In this special episode of Demystified (above), the writer-director-VFX artist details how he and his team made their “small epic” using little more than blue screen, a Sony a7S II, and After Effects.
Just as Robert Rodriguez demonstrated with El Mariachi that a small crew with a small budget could make a movie in 1992, Bateman demonstrates that a small crew with a small budget can make almost any movie in 2021. Granted, that “almost” is still doing a lot of heavy lifting, but the story behind the making of this film should be inspiring to any up-and-coming filmmaker.
Bateman wrote The Wanting Mare after his first feature attempt failed to take off after two years of submitting to festivals.
In the aftermath, he took an opportunity to try his hand at VFX on another filmmaker’s movie.
“I knew that this Wanting Mare movie that I was writing and thinking about had a bunch of visual effects in it,” says Bateman, recalling that decision. “I gotta figure out this visual effects thing.”
“I just basically took those three-and-a-half years, and just took this stack of hard drives that they were shooting [on] and tried to YouTube tutorials my way through it.”
In time, he honed the requisite skills to make a conceptual trailer for The Wanting Mare, comprised of 2D concept art animated in After Effects to give the illusion of camera movement in 3D space. You can view part of that original trailer at 10:45 above.
Bateman and company raised money via IndieGoGo to shoot the first third of the movie. He cut together another trailer from that initial footage to raise additional funding for the final round of shooting, which was conducted almost exclusively against blue screen in a warehouse in New Jersey.
What followed was years of meticulous VFX work to convincingly place the actors into the imagined city of Withren, a process he describes in some detail beginning at the 15:20 mark.
One might be tempted to compare The Wanting Mare to other VFX- and green screen-heavy films that came before: Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, or, in the indie space, Seth Ickerman’s Blood Machines.
What sets The Wanting Mare apart from these is its groundedness and restraint. By design, the film looks as though it could have been shot on real locations, inside actual run-down buildings, and in front of entirely practical set pieces.
Bateman and his cinematographer, David Ross, eschew the big, sweeping, artificial camera movements common in effects films — often a dead giveaway that much of a scene’s environment exists only in a computer — in favor of a stripped-down, present camera reflective of Bateman’s influences: neorealism, 90s French extremism, and the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan like Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and Winter Sleep, for example.
From the outside looking in, especially now that the film is receiving critical praise surrounding its recent VOD release, one might assume The Wanting Mare’s eventual success was always evident. Not so, according to Bateman, who describes years of doubt while making the movie.
“I’m showing it to people and they’re looking at me like ‘This guy’s insane. He’s making this terrible visual effects movie that looks so hokey… and he thinks he’s making a drama.’”
Even in the later stages, when the film wasn’t so different from its current, final form, its prospects looked grim. Bateman estimates the movie “was probably rejected from somewhere over 50 film festivals. Twice.”
The filmmakers’ faith in their film was vindicated, though, when it won Best Feature at the 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival and eventually landed a distribution deal with Gravitas Ventures.
Bateman has since done VFX work for the upcoming David Lowery film The Green Knight, which he talks about at 42:05.
One of the most exciting revelations after The Wanting Mare’s release is that Bateman intends to remain in Anmaere (his name for this fictional universe) for the foreseeable future. Normally, whether or not we’d ever get to see more stories told in a fantasy universe would be entirely up to Hollywood gatekeepers.
Not this time.
Nicholas Ashe Bateman and his team have already proven that, even if Hollywood turns them away, they can just do it themselves.
The Wanting Mare is available in select theaters and on demand.
Main image, above: Nicholas Ashe Bateman